Monday, June 30, 2014

Cozumel Memories

I've been digging through the archives! So many pictures and memories! And I promised you travel adventures, so here it is...

The Trip That Started It All ~ Cozumel, Mexico ~ March 2009

(That may be a bit of an unfair title since our first international trip together (the one that planted the seeds of a passion for missions in our hearts) was a summer missions trip to France with a group from our college, but this was our first international trip as a married couple and included so many other firsts: Our first all-inclusive resort stay, our first SCUBA experience, etc. And it was on this trip when the adventure bug bit us both -- in a big way!)

In the late winter of early 2009, my frugal, brilliant husband was looking for a warm destination. The Iowa winter had been long and brutal, and we were dying to relax in the sunshine! He did quite a bit of research, and ended up finding a great deal on Orbitz where he was able to package our flights and our all-inclusive resort stay for a significant discount! (He's a keeper!)

When the day before our flight arrived, we packed up the car and headed to Des Moines. We spent the night before our early-morning flight at the Hampton Inn in Des Moines. We chose the Hampton because they had a continental breakfast, an airport shuttle, and we could park our car there until we got back! In my journal I recorded, "The desk manager was a card, so he and Austin got along great, and the room was very luxurious and comfortable - an excellent start to our long-awaited vacation."

The next morning, our requested 3:30am wake-up call did its job, and we caught the shuttle to the airport. Once there, we retrieved our boarding passes, checked our baggage, and sailed through security. Then we both slept most of the way to Atlanta.

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image credits, clockwise starting at the top left: image 1, image 2, image 3, image 4, image 5

Once there we made our way to our next gate, then decided to do lunch at the airport version of TGIFridays. I love eating in airports because it is the most wonderful excuse to people watch! The Atlanta airport - reportedly the busiest airport in the world - boasts some pretty interesting characters, too.

It is always hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that there are literally billions of people all over the world living out their life stories simultaneously, and nowhere is that more apparent than in a bustling airport. I think too often we find ourselves operating in a “Truman Show” mentality, as though ours is the only play on the stage and everyone who passes through it are just extras and stage technicians - there for our benefit.

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Image credits: image 1, image 2

Anyway - back to Atlanta - after lunch we trundled ourselves back to our gate and waited for our boarding call.

When we booked the trip, we did not realize we would be traveling during spring break season, and the throng of already-intoxicated college students at the Cancun gate made us pretty nervous. There did not seem to be any rowdy patrons at our gate, or on our plane as we boarded, so that put our minds at ease.

We were delayed by almost 30 minutes in Atlanta, so we hit the ground in Cozumel nearly simultaneously with two or three other large planes - which made for quite a mess in their small customs area. We snaked our way through a line that filled the large room and extended out the doors to the tarmac for nearly two hours.

Once we cleared customs and retrieved our check bags, we stood in another security line, which, once cleared, popped us out into the beautiful Mexican sunshine!

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When we reached the resort, the Melia Cozumel, we entered the gorgeous lobby area that was 1000x more beautiful than the pictures on the Internet. We stepped into the lobby through automatic sliding doors and directly in front of us, through another pair of doors, we could see a gorgeous swimming pool - complete with royal blue lounge chairs, a swim-up bar and towel stand, and steps down to the breathtakingly beautiful beach - perfect white sand and startlingly clear turquoise water.

We tore ourselves away from the view long enough to check in. At the front desk we were welcomed with stemmed glasses of jamaica water, presented with room keys, maps, activities schedules, all-inclusive wrist bands, and cuisine/entertainment schedules. A quick and friendly porter whisked our luggage onto his cart and led the way to the elevators. In his broken English and our broken Spanish we learned that the elevators were new, and that he had been hauling toursits’ luggage up and down the Melia’s stairways for thirty seven years!

He was the first of many incredible and obliging staff members that we met during our stay! Throughout our time there, we had the same server for most dinners, and by day two he had our drink orders down so that we never had to ask, and the housekeeping staff kept our room immaculate - cleaning twice a day - and our mini-fridge stocked with complimentary sodas and bottles of water!

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The Melia is located far enough away from downtown Cozumel so as not to be negatively affected by traffic noise or the late-night party scene, but close enough to be a cheap taxi ride in to enjoy any of the touristy attractions on offer.

The activities staff were all the perfect combination of engaging without being intrusive and overbearing if you just wanted to sunbathe instead of participate in whatever was going on! And there was always something going on! From beach volleyball tournaments to sand sculpture contests to dance lessons to water aerobics, there was something for everyone. And it was a true all-inclusive so whenever we got hungry or thirsty, there were several different choices available!

On the first day, on the shuttle from the airport, we met a group of students from Hampton University in Virginia who had chosen Cozumel and the Melia as their spring break destination. We spent most of our resort time, and a couple of days in town with them, and had a great time making memories (as you can see in the pictures below)!

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Most of our days were spent either hanging around the beach and the resort or strolling and shopping in downtown Cozumel, but one thing both Austin and I had always wanted to do was SCUBA dive, and Cozumel has some of the most incredible diving in the world.

We asked at the hotel's activities desk, and they were able to set us up with a "Discovery SCUBA" trip which was fantastic! "Discovery SCUBA" is a dive for people who have either never been diving before or who have no diving certification. Since we met both of those criteria, it was perfect for us! (Although, if we were on this trip now, we would probably shop around more and book independent from the hotel because the concierge is usually not the best deal.)

Our dive trip was with Dive With Martin, and since neither of us had ever been diving before, we went with an instructor and only two other divers. The took us to the Palancar Reef, which we found out later is one of the most incredible reef dives in the world. The instructors gave us a short tutorial on the boat ride out, and then we hopped out of the boat and began our very first descent.

After a brief panic on my part at the top, we both were able to descend without too much trouble and commenced with one of the most magical experiences we had ever had! SCUBA is an incredible sport, and little did we know that this dive would be the beginning of something wonderful!

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When we surfaced after our second dive - after seeing the beautiful reef and all of the life it housed, including some of the beautiful sea turtles Cozumel is famous for, we were both very clear about our opinion of the sport: We LOVED it! We would definitely be doing that again!

Our fun and funny dive guides got us back to the dock, and along the way regaled us with stories of other dives and divers in the area. It was a wonderful first SCUBA experience, and one that would set the tone for the rest of our diving adventures! We were thoroughly impressed with Dive With Martin, and would use them again if we were diving in Cozumel!

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The group from Hampton University had to leave the day before we did, so we spent our final resort day, just the two of us, bumming around. I finished reading a book by the pool, we played some beach volleyball, I'm sure there were other activities that day, but the biggest thing I remember is that it was the only day that we did not apply sunscreen. At all.

I remember that because by the end of the day we were incredibly sunburned. (See the above collage, bottom right. We snapped that selfie in the Cozumel airport waiting for our departure flight.) We were both so sunburned that during our overnight layover at a hotel in Cincinnati, OH, we took advantage of the two double beds and each slept alone so as not to bump one another in the middle of the night!

But the pain was worth it to have some incredible color when we got home and went back to work! There's nothing like looking like a beach bum in the middle of early-spring Iowa!

So, that was our trip! Little did we know that before the year was out we would be starting on an adventure that would take us to a total of 15 countries by way of 38 different flights and have us sleeping in 58 different beds. But that's another story for another time!

Thanks for stopping by! Hope you have a great Monday!


To see the original blog post from 2009, click here!

To see a list of ALL of our travel stories, in chronological order, click here!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Tiny Living and Why It's Awesome!!!

Okay, so I am seriously crushing on the idea of Tiny Living!

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If you are unfamiliar with the movement, you can read about it here or here or here or here, and this is a great documentary about it (I think we watched the documentary on Netflix).

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In a nutshell, "tiny living" just means living in a far-smaller-than-average home (most of the tiny houses I've seen examples of are between 100 and 400 square feet, but there is no stringent definition that I'm aware of). People live this way for a lot of reasons: it is less expensive (smaller square footage to heat, cool, keep clean, etc.), it is "greener" (smaller space = smaller carbon footprint and fewer materials utilized in construction), it is a simpler way to live (less space for living means less space to store superfluous stuff).

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While I wouldn't really categorize us as super environmentalists (I mean, we do drive a Prius, and we recycle, but that's about the extent of it), these reasons are really why it appeals to us as well!

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As someone who is currently paying two mortgages every month, the prospect of living mortgage free is extremely appealing. And it's actually a realistic possibility as the cost of materials and land would be far less than the cost of your average, standard-sized home. I can understand how monthly expenses would be considerably less in a tiny house as well. Smaller space means smaller utility usage. Less square footage means less cleaning (a major bonus in my mind), and fewer things that can break and fewer elements to maintain.

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Just stop for a minute and imagine what your personal budget would look like if you didn't have a monthly mortgage or rent payment. Conventional wisdom says that housing costs account for 30% of our monthly expenses. Even if your mortgage is only half of your housing expenses, what would it mean for your monthly expenses to be decreased by 15%? Just for the sake of argument, let's say that Joe and Sarah make $3,000/month. That means that, on average, $1,000 will be spent on their housing expenses. If, by transitioning to a "tiny living" situation, they are able to decrease their housing expenses by half, that is an additional $500 per month that they will no longer be spending on housing. And since living small means living with less superfluous stuff, that extra $500 won't be spent on things.

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And this is a very conservative estimate. Many who live in tiny houses are able to use green, sustainable energy sources such as wind generators or solar panels to further decrease their cost of living and their environmental impact, which is another big win-win!

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There is also a huge element of freedom associated with tiny living as many tiny houses are built on mobile platforms; however, even if your tiny house is stationary, the fiscal realities of tiny living give you a lot of options for traveling and adventures! I mean, not only will you have more liquid income, but your monthly expense needs will be decreased dramatically enough for you to leave the "rat race."

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If you think about it, at some point along the line, society decided that "success" was defined or proven by how much stuff we own. People who make oodles and gobs of money will obviously live in bigger houses, drive bigger cars, or at least have more cars to choose from, wear more expensive clothing, and own lots of expensive toys.

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But do all of these things add up to happier or more content living? You don't have to look very far before you realize that the answer to that question is a resounding, "No!" The ultra-rich of our societies are often the most obviously unhappy as evidenced by the myriad news stories about famous marriages crumbling, celebrities overdosing on drugs, and the list goes on and on. Of course, that's not necessarily a picture of average life; however, I think many of the problems found in the highest levels of society translate to the average middle-class family.

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Most of the people I know would fall into the "average income" category. And what that most often looks like is both husband and wife working at least 40 hours per week, children involved in a plethora of extracurricular activities, and everyone thoroughly overcommitted and often exhausted. This is what "normal" looks like.

Normal is a lie.

All of these practical reasons are great rationale for choosing the tiny lifestyle, but I think my favorite part reason is the amount of creativity that goes into building and living in a tiny house! Everything from storage to kitchen solutions has to be creative to work with considerably smaller than average space, and I love that! I love that every part of a tiny house is totally customized and fitted to our needs and the way that we like to live!

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So, all that to say, I really love the idea of tiny living! I even have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to the concept! And, since both of our houses are on the market and will, hopefully, sell very soon, I'm praying that some form of tiny living may be in our not-so-distant future!

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Bottom line: tiny living does not equal a small life!

Hope you have a great weekend!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Italy PDA - Part 6

PDA stands for President's Day Adventures, in this case. ;)

Click here to read Part 1!
Click here to read Part 2!
Click here to read Part 3!
Click here to read Part 4!
Click here to read Part 5!

Welcome back! If you're just joining us, please use the links above to read parts one through five.

When last we left our intrepid travelers, we were enjoying our final breakfast in Italy! Since we were enjoying said breakfast right next door to the car rental office, we were inside as soon as the doors were open. The kind gentleman who ran the place, and thankfully spoke great English, welcomed us inside and asked us to wait a moment while he got everything up and running for the day. When he was ready, he called Austin over to the counter and asked for his name. He punched a few buttons on the computer and then looked up at Austin and said, "I have no reservation for you."

. . .

Nikki and I were sitting a few feet away doing our very best not to hyperventilate.

. . .

The rental car manager checked his fax machine a second time, and, praise the Lord, found our rental agreement! He had Austin sign a couple of papers, and showed us to our rental chariot! A tiny Nissan Micra. We strategically shoehorned all of our belongings into the car, and we were (once again) on our way home!

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Our little rental!

The drive home was blessedly uneventful, except for a short stop to buy a second Austrian vignette (see part one for an explanation of the vignette process).

Shane was able to get in touch with his commanding officer so that he would not be in hot water over not reporting at the start of the day, and we made it back to Hohenfels early in the afternoon. Much to the delight of the PWOC events team for whom the four of us were scheduled to babysit that night!

That's right, a few short hours later, the four of us, who had travelled for 36+ hours, welcomed a couple dozen of our favorite kiddos to the Club Beyond building so their parents could enjoy the PWOC Valentine's Day Date Night!

Though it was a long and involved ordeal to get from point A to point B, we ended up with some great memories and one heck of a story! (And I learned to drive a stick shift in the rental car, which was a nice added bonus!) Thanks for journeying with us! Stay tuned for more fun adventure stories, and let me know what you're liking, what you're not, and what you'd like more of!


To see a list of ALL of our travel stories, in chronological order, click here!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Breaking the silence . . .

I have been a part of a church since before I was born. (Literally, I was an in-utero church member, no kidding!) I love Jesus, I love the Bible, and up until recently I could have honestly said that I love church.

My husband and I met at Bible college. We were missionaries overseas for more than four years. We moved back across the ocean (at no small expense to ourselves and our supporters) because we felt God had called us to minister as part of a local church in the capacity of the youth pastor and his wife. It was the culmination of many of our dreams.

We moved to Florida, bought a house, and proceeded to live the crap out of our big, happy, church-going life.

I used to say to people, "You know how when people are called to Ethiopia, they tell you that they just love Ethiopian people, and they have no explanation for that other than that God put that love in their hearts? I feel exactly that same way about our church family!" And it wasn't just something I said. I meant it, with every fiber of my being.

But I haven't regularly attended a church for the better part of six months. Just putting that down here makes me very sad.

On January 15, 2014, my husband, Austin and I basically got punched in the stomach and then kicked in the teeth by the very leadership that told us exactly six months earlier that they had our best interests at heart and would look out for us and love us like family. It's a very long story, but this evening Austin shared the highlights via Facebook post:

I think I've stayed quiet long enough. It's time for the congregation of First Baptist Church of Altamonte Springs to know the truth. I didn't choose to leave. I was called into an office with three men and was told that I would be resigning. I told them I wouldn't resign without praying about it and talking with my wife first. They told me they weren't asking, they were telling. You'll see that in the pre-typed letter of resignation they had waiting for me (see - "I will honor the decision of the leadership, Pastor Ron, and Personnel and will consider the health of the church over my personal feelings"). I was terminated due to "Philosophical Differences" and told that if I wanted to receive any severance pay I would keep my mouth shut and "not cause division." I was also informed that it was expected that we would not return to the church. So what does "Philosophical Differences" mean? Good question. It means that Ron Smith told me that it didn't matter if I worked for multiple weeks on end without a day off, I was not allowed to take any comp time to spend with Katy or even to make up for a sabbath. His attitude was "Jesus never took a day off." He also told me that, "Katy just sits at home clipping coupons all day so why not call her up and take her to a high school football game with you, and that could be your time together." I told him that was unreasonable and that those expectations are what lead to the high level of burn-out in ministry and a lot of the moral failures in pastors' lives, and I felt it was unbiblical. He disagreed. He even changed the 2014 policy manual to state that employees would not receive any comp time for work performed on "days off." What were my days off? Friday and Saturday....and I'm a youth pastor. When do retreats happen? When do sports games (badminton for example) happen? When do overnighters, movie nights, video game nights, go out for ice cream nights, talk about jesus times happen?...Oh yeah, Friday nights and Saturday, all school year long. So I had to choose between date night or ministry, Sabbath rest or discipleship. He then created a document that I was told I would have to sign stating that I agreed with his policies and would abide by them. I told him I couldn't do so in good conscience. So he and his clan fired me. The kicker, FBCAS is a church governed by the congregation. He can't legally change the policy manual without a church vote. He can't create documents and require me to sign them. What I found out after the fact is that the three men in the room had no right to demand my resignation. The truth is, if they wanted me gone, a deacon would have to present it to the church and you would all have to vote to fire me. I didn't know that. The deacons didn't even know I was fired until days after I was gone, despite the fact he met with them hours before the meeting I was fired in (I know because several of the deacons called me, very surprised, asking me what had happened). I sat in that office in tears and begged them to not tell the church I resigned because I had made a commitment to you students that I wouldn't "abandon you," as many of you put it. They promised they wouldn't say I "resigned". That Sunday, Cory Caslow stood up in front of the church and stated that they had "accepted my resignation." He also said that the personnel committee had met with me on multiple occasions and tried to council with me. To this day I've never even met with the personnel committee. The day I was fired, Katy wrote an email to the worship leader informing her that she would be leaving the worship team as I had been asked to resign. About 30 minutes later, Ron called my phone and told me that he would be reporting the email to the personnel committee and they would possibly take away my severance because "that action is divisive," and I essentially needed to keep my wife under control (I have a copy of the email if you want to see how "divisive" Katy is). So why am I telling you the truth now? Because I thought the leadership at FBCAS would ask the hard questions and would stand up for truth and accountability in leadership. Because I was pursued by a mega church to be their youth pastor and it reminded me that I didn't suck at being a pastor, but we were both too hurt to even consider it. Because I've had a new job for months, I make just as much money, I'm probably moving away from Florida, and you all deserve the truth. Better yet, my wife and I deserve to leave Florida with the people we loved so dearly knowing the truth. Many of you have believed the lies, not spoken to us, and not cared enough to ask what really happened. That hurts, Katy especially. She has spent weeks in the past crying and asking me how people who knew us could believe that we would just leave like that. Many of you know we were wronged but were too afraid to stand up for us. You could share this post so people know the truth...but you probably won't. Some of you will unfriend me, that's cool sheep, graze on.

To see the full-sized letter, click here or on the image above.

It has been a very rough several months since all of this happened, but we have had time to process through it together and with our families. We still love the Lord and desire to serve Him in some capacity, but still feel very raw whenever we are in a church setting.

We don't share this story to cause strife or division, but because we truly believe that knowing the truth is the necessary first step to healthy change.

And also as a word of caution: Don't take everything your "pastor" says at face value. He is just a man. A good, godly pastor will welcome accountability and honest questions. If you ever come across a pastor who doesn't, run. Fast. Also, church structure is there for a reason. Any pastor who says he doesn't need an elder board should be a gigantic red flag. Even the apostles (the men who actually, physically walked with Jesus), didn't take the opportunity to demand their leadership rights without a group of leaders being involved (read just about any chapter in the book of Acts).

So that's our story. God is good, and He continues to provide for us (we have been paying two mortgages since November of last year, so that has added extreme financial stress to the situation). We know that none of this is a surprise to Him, and we also know that our problems are very small, not only in light of eternity, but when compared to those around us who are struggling with really important things!

Hope you have a great weekend! I'm hoping mine includes a beach!


Friday, June 13, 2014

Italy PDA - Part 5

PDA stands for President's Day Adventures, in this case. ;)

Click here to read Part 1!
Click here to read Part 2!
Click here to read Part 3!
Click here to read Part 4!

Welcome back! If you're just joining us, please use the links above to read parts one through four.

When last we left our intrepid travelers, we were standing on the sidewalk outside the Toyota dealership in Genoa, preparing to walk to the train station. (You could check out this video for a succinct wrap up of the situation.) Armed with our trusty iPhones, complete with the Navigon GPS app, we programmed in the nearest train station, and struck out, intent on getting to Genoa in time to catch the train that would take us all the way to Parsberg, the nearest train station to home!

Now, we have used the Navigon app for the iPhone in MANY different countries. Probably all of Western Europe. The app has helped us find restaurants, hotels, airports, and train stations literally all over the world. We had every confidence that we would easily find the train station with ease.

The trek started out fairly uneventfully. Although it was dark, and we were in a large, Italian city with which we were not tremendously familiar, we were together, and we were moving forward! Soon we would be on the train heading home!

Pretty soon, however, the GPS started leading us away from the city center and up in elevation. Not up some gently rolling hills, but up hundreds -- if not THOUSANDS -- of stairs. At this point in the journey, I started to lose my cool. My mood was not improved by the breaking of my purse strap on step 783 (approximately). Eventually, we made it to the top of the stairs and found ourselves in the middle of an Italian neighborhood, complete with barking dogs and people driving home from work. We were beginning to be a little dubious about finding a train station, but we continued following the GPS's directions, and even asked a woman we passed about the train station, and we convinced ourselves that what she said in Italian was, "Yes, of course you're going the right way!"

Before long, we came upon a train car (success!), sitting on train tracks (yahtzee!), next to a small building! And the GPS said the words we had longed to hear: "You have arrived at your destination!" Unfortunately, although the building we had found was in fact a train station of sorts (it serviced the train that took you up and down the mountain that we had just climbed via thousands of stairs), it was not a main train station, nor would a train be coming to that station that could get us to a main train station. At this point, knowing that our window of time to possibly make it home in time for work on Tuesday morning was growing ever more narrow, we decided to cut our losses and take a taxi to the main train station. Thankfully the gentleman at the mini-train station was able and willing to make the call for us, and the taxi arrived shortly thereafter.

At the end of our brief taxi ride, you can imagine our surprise at the beautiful memorial statue to Christopher Columbus that greeted us across the street from the train station! That's right. Less than 36 hours earlier, we had stood in that exact spot, taken pictures of the memorial, and used the restrooms inside the train station! (Major face-palm moment!)

(Quick Travel Tip: If, after hearing your plans to walk to "x" destination, a native Italian offers to call you a cab, LET HIM! Italians walk. A lot. If they think you're crazy to choose to walk and try to insist on a cab, it's a really long way away, and you will need a cab! ;D)

The beautiful Stazione Principe Genoa, as taken on our day of sightseeing in Genoa

At this point, Austin again got on the phone with the roadside assistance personnel to attempt to secure their promise of financial assistance with our trip home, and the three of us hustled into the station to get our tickets for what was sure to be the last leg of our journey. Hopefully.

It seemed that we had finally caught a break, because we had made it to the train station with barely enough time to catch the last train of the night all the way back to Germany! Unfortunately, we were too late to buy tickets at the kiosk, so we had to high tale it to the train and pay for our tickets once we were underway! (Something that is generally frowned upon and that can result in a hefty fine, but thankfully the conductor we spoke to was kind to us and allowed us to purchase all four tickets without a fee!) The standard train route back to Germany was from Genoa to Milano to Zurich to Munich and then into Parsberg.

In order to make it to the end of the line, the first hurdle we had to jump was to make it to Milano in time for our connecting train! Should have been no problem, but, the European train system being what it is, our trip hit a couple of delays which got is into Milano exactly two minutes after our connecting train was scheduled to leave! Ever hopeful, we were waiting at the doors when we arrived in the station and we ran to the designated track. Along the way we were encouraged to see that the connection we were running for had, in fact, also been delayed! We made it to the track, but unfortunately the train hadn't been delayed enough. We had missed it, thanks to Italian trains and Murphy's law!

At this point, discouraged and hungry, but not defeated, we headed across the street to McDonald's in the hopes of some late night food and wi-fi to figure out our next steps and whether or not we had any hope of getting home before 8am on Tuesday!

The wi-fi system was a Milano; however, and it required that you buy tickets from a tobacco stand to be able to log on. Nikki and I stayed with the stuff in the McDonald's and Shane and Austin took off for the closest stand, aided by directions from the local policeman. They fortuitously made it to the stand before the attendant closed the gate for the night, but with standard Italian logic, the cards that they could purchase there could not be activated until the following morning. ("Domani, domani!" Lol!) Needless to say, they did not purchase said cards, and we moved on from the McDonald's (which was good because the staff were getting ready to close and they were giving us the stink eye because we had yet to purchase any "food.")

On their walk back, the guys had discovered a sweet little doner place that boasted its own wi-fi, and we were way more excited about eating doners than McDonald's! We hauled all of our possessions into the doner place, ordered food, and hooked up to their Internet to try and find a solution to our ever-worsening situation.

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Since we had missed our connection and the traditional route was closed to us (since all of the trains had departed for the night), we decided that moving in the right direction was better (and cheaper) than waiting out the night in Milano until the bright and early morning train would get us back to Germany. We caught the next northbound train in the wee hours of the morning, and made the short trip to Verona.

Side note: I'm probably a major theater nerd, but whenever I hear, or think, or say, Verona, the very next thing that comes to mind is this little ditty from Kiss me Kate!:

We arrived in Verona at oh-so-very-dark-thirty, and once we were able to get out of the train station (a sometimes difficult proposition when in an all but closed, smallish train station), we knew we needed to find more Internet and a bathroom! According to all of the schedules we had seen, we had a couple of hours until we could catch another train heading in the right direction. We followed the directions in a large advertising sign to the closest hotel, and banged on the door until the overnight front-desk guy got up from his nap on the lobby couch. He came to the door, and let us in only to tell us that they were absolutely full, and no, we couldn't stay in the lobby and use the Internet because the Internet was for guests only. Oh, and no we couldn't use their restroom because that was also for guests only. After that rather unfulfilling conversation, we found ourselves back on the street looking for another hotel.

Thankfully one was not far away, and the front desk gentleman there was much more accommodating. For a small fee we were able to avail ourselves of their restroom and their Internet as long as we would be gone before the hotel owner got back!

The next train going North would get us as far as Bolzano, but unfortunately we couldn't get from Bolzano to Germany in any kind of a reasonable amount of time. And as we had found earlier, the cost of a one-way rental car was absolutely exorbitant! Then, my brilliant husband hit upon a solution! We would get a round-trip rental in Bolzano (we needed a car once we got home until our Prius was fixed anyway), and then we could return the car when we had a more flexible time frame! We arranged for the rental car via the Internet and a phone call (adding to the ever-mounting roaming bill), and made our way back to the train station for our early train ride to Bolzano.

We arrived in Bolzano around six in the morning. Since the rental car place didn't open until eight, we had to wait. Since we were back in the higher elevations, and it was COLD, we took a taxi to the rental car agency. By the great grace of God there was a great little bar (remember, that's often Italian for "coffee shop") right next door! It was open, and we trundled ourselves inside to enjoy what, blessedly, would be our final Italian breakfast on this trip! (The cappuccino and brioche in Bolzano did not disappoint!)

Cappuccino & Brioche
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Though we're on the downward stretch, we're not home yet, and there remains more to this story! Will Shane get arrested for being AWOL? Will the Prius ever run again? There's only one way to find out! Come back for part 6! ;)

Have a great weekend!


Click here to read Part 6!

To see a list of ALL of our travel stories, in chronological order, click here!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Italy PDA - Part 4

PDA stands for President's Day Adventures, in this case. ;)

Click here to read Part 1!
Click here to read Part 2!
Click here to read Part 3!

Welcome back! If you're just joining us, please use the links above to read parts one, two, and three.

Monday morning, Presidents' Day, we got up, checked out of the hotel, and enjoyed a final, delightful breakfast at the Caffe Della Poste. Before we left on Sunday, we had communicated to our favorite barista (with our limited Italian and her limited English), that we would be returning on Monday and would prefer to eat our weight in Brioche Nutella before heading home! She did not disappoint and we were all well-sated before we drove away from beautiful Chiavari.

The plan was to make the simple, easy drive back to Hohenfels by early evening, and get a good night's rest before returning to real life on Tuesday. (Real life meaning work for Austin and Shane, and PWOC's Valentine's Day Date Night babysitting duty for the four of us on Tuesday evening.)

On the way home we engaged in typical road trip behavior, including singing along to the radio! As we entered a tunnel, I started video taping the guys' rendition of "Girl on Fire" and got way more than I bargained for! Check it out:

(Disclaimer: Austin does not swear at (00:43). He is saying "What the fudge." Just for clarification.)

As soon as we got out of the tunnel, Austin took the next available exit and parked us at a gas station/truck stop. He proceeded to call our roadside assistance company (Praise the Lord for the insurance that included roadside assistance!), and the person at the other end of the line promised to send a tow truck. The time was around 9:00am.

While we waited for our tow, we had another cappuccino. We were still in Italy, after all! ;)

At around 11:00am, a tow truck made its way into the lot where we were parked. The driver parked, hopped out of his truck, and sauntered over to us. He was tall and thick, with dark, slicked-back hair, and aviators. He seemed to already be in a foul mood, and encountering a group of Americans who spoke very little Italian didn't do anything to improve his disposition. He started rattling off a lot of Italian, and we were able to decipher that he intended to take us back into Chiavari, from whence we had just come. We tried to communicate to him that the roadside assistance company had promised us a tow to Genoa, where the nearest Toyota dealership was located. While I tried to make him understand, in my sorely-lacking Italian, Austin got back on the phone with the roadside assistance company, hoping that someone there could speak to the driver in his own language and placate him to the point of cooperation. He would have none of it; however, and the conversation disintegrated into him waving his arms around, shouting, "Domani, domani, domani!" (Italian for "tomorrow"!), and angrily getting back into his truck, slamming it into gear, and roaring away, back down the autostrada, leaving us stranded and utterly bereft.

At this point, Austin got back on the phone with the roadside assistance company. After a series of phone calls, they informed us that they would not be sending another tow truck since we had, "Sent the first driver away." Another flurry of phone calls ensued (very expensive phone calls, I might add, since we were on a German cell phone plan and calling German numbers from Italy, but more on that later). Austin was finally able to convince the roadside assistance people that it was absolutely imperative for them to send another tow truck and get us to Genoa TODAY, not tomorrow (since we all had important things to do tomorrow, not the least of which was Shane, for whom missing work would mean being AWOL. Not an insignificant problem in the Army.)! A couple of hours, and several cappuccinos, later a second tow truck carrying a much more genial driver arrived and loaded us up! The time was now around 3:54pm :P

Knowing we were in the middle of a great adventure, we made sure to chronicle the saga via video log:

The second tow truck driver (who was the first one to actually tow us anywhere), switched us to a third tow truck in Levante, and we made our way to the Toyota dealership in Genoa, and what we hoped would be a quick fix to get us back on the road in time for work on Tuesday!

We survived the trip, which was a little harrowing for us girls in our perch, and arrived at the Toyota dealership in Genoa around 5pm. The dealership thankfully didn't close until 7pm, and the technicians were able to get the Prius hooked up to the diagnostic computer right away.

That was the end of the good news; however, as the problem was much larger than we could have fathomed, and there was no way it could be fixed that evening. Poor Austin got back on the phone with our auto insurance company to determine whether or not they wanted to fix the car in Genoa, or have it towed, long-distance back to Germany for repairs to occur there. Alternately he got in touch with the roadside assistance company to work on another way home. They were hesitant to commit to paying for train tickets, but we knew that would be the quickest way home and much cheaper than a one-way rental car. After a lot more time on the phone (racking up the long-distance, international roaming charges), and some quick conversations with the Italian mechanics, and an even quicker huddle with our traveling buddies, we decided to head to the train station (hoping that the roadside assistance company would end up paying for our travel), and the insurance company determined that it would be best to have the car shipped back to Germany for repairs.

We gathered all of our belongings out of the Prius, and prepared to leave the dealership as the employees were calling it a night. One of the mechanics, who spoke really good English, offered -- several times -- to call a taxi to take us to the train station, but we were convinced (thanks to our trusty GPS apps) that we could easily walk and save the expense of a taxi. (Insert ironic smile)

Austin took a moment to sum up the situation as we stood outside the dealership:

Join us again next time for Part 5 - the saga of getting home has only just begun!


Click here to read Part 5!

To see a list of ALL of our travel stories, in chronological order, click here!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

On Perfectionism, Platitudes, and Prettiness.

Hello blog world!

I realize that I totally left you hanging on the "Italy PDA" story, and I'm sorry about that! I Promise to finish it, and the ending really is worth coming back for!

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So much has happened and continues to happen here in our little corner of the world, and I seem to continually find myself in the Place of having too much to say and being overwhelmed by all that I have failed to blog and then deciding to move forward by Posting . . . nothing! (This is not a new Problem for me, and it stems from my arch-nemesis: Perfectionism)

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Life is hard, and the last six months have been very tough for our little family. I feel like we're finally coming out of the fog, but it's a Process. I don't mean to be cryptic, but there are still a lot of things that have gone on that are really hard to Put into words. Maybe I will at some Point. Suffice it to say we would definitely appreciate your Prayers! We are Physically healthy and our God is the great Provider, but life has a way of beating us up.

If you are the Praying kind, here are a couple of other things to add to your list:

~ My best friend's little boy, who was born with Cystic Fibrosis, was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma this week. Read their story here. Please Pray for Logan, his family, and his medical team as they move forward into treatment. If you'd like to do something tangible to reach out to this family, there is a GoFundMe here:

~ My brother-in-law's mother Passed away yesterday. Please Pray for Jesse, my sister (his wife) Kindra, and Jesse's family as they grieve this loss.

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There's something about hearing a bunch of Platitudes that makes life's hard things feel harder. Well, if not harder, they add an edge of annoyance to an already difficult situation. In all of these Painful things, I find myself at a loss for words, and I Pray that I don't fall into the fear Place. The Place where we're so afraid of saying the wrong thing that we say the worn-out thing. The thing that has been said so many times that no matter how well-meant, it grates.

What is the remedy to this fear Place? I think it is to be brave. Brave enough to say hard things, or nothing at all. Brave enough to just hold on to each other in the midst of the storm that threatens to tear you apart. Brave enough to resist the temptation to lean on the tired, Predictable Platitude that holds no true comfort, but lets you feel like you're "off the hook." Brave enough to go to the empathy Place. The Place that truly feels another's Pain.

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On a slightly different note, we now have not only one but two houses on the market! That's right! Our house in Iowa has been without a rental tenant since November 15th of 2013, and on the market since January. Since the market in Florida seems to be hotter than Iowa, we made the tough decision to list this house on Wednesday. We anticipate that the Florida house will sell more quickly, and when it does we will make our way to Iowa to fill the empty house with our furniture in the hopes that a "staged" home will be Prettier and will sell more easily than an empty one.

After that, we don't really know what comes next, but we are confident that God's Plan and timing are Perfect, and He always knows what He's doing! (And that's no Platitude!)

And now for some Prettiness to end this not-so-Pretty post :)

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Thanks for reading, and thanks for praying!